Thanks to The Digital Reader, a blog that I read daily, for bringing this video to my attention.
The following video sums up the argument for and against the serial (Oxford) comma and is worth watching:
Richard Adin, An American Editor
Thanks to The Digital Reader, a blog that I read daily, for bringing this video to my attention.
The following video sums up the argument for and against the serial (Oxford) comma and is worth watching:
Richard Adin, An American Editor
by Louise Harnby
Like many of my fellow editorial business owners, I’m often approached by potential new entrants to the field who want advice about getting started. Often, the first question a newbie asks is: “What do I need to know?” It’s a tough one because it’s almost impossibly vague and doesn’t tell the editorial pro anything about their enquirer’s previous career, educational qualifications, skill sets, and target markets, knowledge of which is essential if one is going to hand out any substantive advice.
What someone “needs to know” will depend on a number of factors; so, instead of telling them they must read X or Y, I ask these questions:
I try not to assume that my enquirer is from the same place as me, speaks like me, has the same potential clients as me, and spells “colour” like I do (except when the brief tells me to spell it “color”). Centrism, whether from the United Kingdom, the United States, or elsewhere in the world, is useless to the new entrant to the field because it’s based on false assumptions about them and their potential customers.
A new entrant to the editing profession from California sends me an e-mail with the answers to questions 1, 2, and 3. Based on these I suggest social science publishers and academics would be good initial target markets. How does my new starter’s California location affect her choice of potential publishers? It’s not clear cut. The online world has knocked down those geographical boundaries; you don’t have to spend a fortune to send page proofs to someone hundreds of miles away; you can email them to someone thousands of miles away for the price of an Internet connection.
And how does my new starter’s location in the United States more broadly affect what she needs to learn in terms of styles and language preferences? Again, it’s not clear cut. I see The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) recommended as the sole must-have resource so often in online discussions about editorial work that I worry that new entrants may fall into the trap of thinking that this “bible” alone will tell them everything they need to know. Super though it may be, CMOS is not the be all and end all of style guides, because it depends what a client wants and because it depends on the subject matter and country.
The website of California-based publisher SAGE Publications tells us that copy-editors need a thorough knowledge of both the CMOS and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA). Note that these are core requirements for SAGE’s US book division. If you want to freelance for the US journal division, you’ll need to add the AMA Manual of Style and The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers to your reading list. (Also worth noting is that not all publishers want the most current version of these manuals used.)
But why stop there? If my new starter can get work with SAGE in California, might it not be sensible to consider tapping its sister office in London? But in that case, our newbie will also need familiarity with New Hart’s Rules, The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, and Butcher’s Copyediting.
Or what if our new starter decides to target social science academics who, like her, are based in the US? Will those academics all be writing books for US publishers? Will they submit articles only to American journals? Of course not. It’s just as likely that an eminent Boston-based scholar will submit to the European Journal of Political Research as to the American Political Science Review, Scandinavian Political Studies, or the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
How will this impact on what our newbie needs to know? Will it be “behavior” or “behaviour”? Will a comma in a sentence come before a closing quotation, or after? Will “decision-making” lose its hyphen? “Organize” or “organise”? Spaced parenthetical en rules or closed-up em rules? The important point is that where our clients live doesn’t determine where they publish or the location of their intended readership.
Given that the editorial freelancing market is competitive, it makes sense to exploit the most obvious opportunities. In the Internet Age, the physical barriers are gone. The only barrier to exploring an international work stream is an inability to appreciate that language conventions and preferences differ according to client (whether that be a particular publisher, a particular independent author, a particular journal), not according to one, and only one, globally recognized set of rules. Honestly — such a thing doesn’t exist; it doesn’t even exist within many countries.
It’s not so much about where we live, but where our clients live and what preferences they have. I live in the UK. I’ve worked with a Swedish fantasy author who wanted to use American terminology but UK spelling with –ize suffixes. I proofread for academic publishers who will ask me for US spelling and “style” for one project, and who then, two weeks later, will send a brief for a new project that asks for something completely different. Regarding reference styles, I’ve proofread law books that used Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA), sociology books that used Harvard, and industrial relations journals that used Vancouver. I’ve worked on research-methods books that were styled according to CMOS, linguistics books that asked for APA, and politics reports that used The Economist style guide. I’ve proofread philosophy books where the style was…let’s just call it “go with the flow.” Many of my publishers have a “house” style, so working for them means reading and learning that.
So, if a new starter asks me what she needs to know, I tell her that she needs to be prepared to familiarize herself with a number of appropriate resources depending on what her clients want. Perhaps it’s CMOS; perhaps it’s not. And even if it is, ONLY knowing this may mean she is seriously restricting the base of clients for whom she can work, the types of material she can work on, and the geographical locations she can explore. I ask her to (a) think about which particular client groups she is most suited to, (b) do some research that will tell her what those clients require, and (c) use that information to inform the decision about which resources to invest in. If someone’s world revolves around CMOS, it’s a smaller world than it needs to be. And if her world is smaller than it needs to be, so are the opportunities she is exploring in a market that’s already very competitive.
One other item to note. CMOS, CSE, APA, AMA, and the like are style guides; they give you guidance on whether, for example, to close up or hyphenate a compound adjective. What they do not do is give you extensive guidance on whether a word is being properly used. Usage manuals, which give that kind of information, are as important as style guides. Using a style guide or a usage manual alone is an invitation to disaster.
When you’re the owner of an editorial business you need to learn what your clients want you to learn, whether it’s a manual published by Chicago or Oxford, a house brief designed by a team of publisher project managers, a detailed set of guidelines issued by a European NGO, or a short brief issued by an independent author of fiction. Encouraging our new starters to think broadly, globally, and flexibly is essential if we are to guide them effectively towards what they need to know. Pointing them to one set of rules is not only restricting, it’s just plain wrong.
There is, alas, no simple answer to the question “what do I need to know?” Instead, advice that asks our new starters to give careful thought and planning centered around client- and skill-focused research is a good first step. That way, the new entrant to the field learns for himself what resources, tools, and knowledge bases are suitable for him, his potential market, and his particular business model. Language usage, styles, and preferences differ, and our advice needs to reflect that.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and the forthcoming Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.
During the Reagan administration, the Republican answer to drugs and sex outside marriage was to “Just say no!” Abstinence was the mantra, which resulted in the pursuit of policies that simply did not work in the real world.
Little has apparently changed, as the following video report attests:
except that this time the Republicans think the way to resolve healthcare issues is to “just say no” to poverty. This video is quite an insight into Republican thinking about people in general and about anyone but the top 1% in particular.
With all of the misinformation being spread about Obamacare, one would think that a viable alternative would be lurking in the background. Instead, we have the new “just say no” campaign. Strikingly, Republicans seem to be unwilling or unable to grasp just how important access to healthcare is for breaking the poverty cycle and making the American dream of upward mobility a reality.
Richard Adin, An American Editor
Have you ever wondered why some businesses are successful and others are not? One key ingredient to being successful is knowledge — knowledge about one’s business.
Think about all the ways companies like Google and Facebook collect data on those who use their services — all the ways they “invade your privacy.” Why do they and other companies mine their users for information? Because data is important and these companies either want to sell others data about you or want the data to determine how best to reach you.
It’s true that editors don’t need the same information or even the same detail information, but we still need information about how our business is running. We need to know, for example, what our minimum effective hourly rate needs to be in order to ensure that we charge clients enough to meet our bills. (For a discussion on the effective hourly rate and what to charge, see the 5-part series Business of Editing: What to Charge. Part V includes links to the prior parts. The series should be read in order.)
Note: The following discussion centers on editing and editors. Modifications need to be made for writers and other freelancers, but the basic concepts hold true.
To determine what to charge, how to charge, and whether we are doing the best we can, we need to have data. Consequently, we need to keep records of what we do and know how to analyze those records.
Rule number 1 is to always track your work time. All analysis begins with knowing the amount of time spent on a project, how much time was spent working during a week, how many weeks of work we have over the course of a year. And we need to distinguish between billable work and nonbillable work. Every business has both, but it is the billable work that has to pay for both itself and for the nonbillable work. Nonbillable work includes the time we spend marketing and participating in online discussions and anything else that is work-related but for which we have no client to whom we can bill the time.
Rule number 2 for editing is to always convert a project to pages. It doesn’t matter what formula you use as long as whatever constitutes a page remains constant. By constant I mean that you use it for all your calculations, including how you would charge a client if you were/are charging using a per-page method.
Rule number 3 is that you collect the data for each project as a standalone as well as for projects cumulatively. That is, Project Alpha may provide data of 32 hours, 210 manuscript pages, and a fee of $800, and we need to know that information for Project Alpha. Project Beta’s data may be 21 hours, 250 manuscript pages, and a fee of $525. Project Gamma’s data may be 41 hours, 207 manuscript pages, and a fee of $1025. Cumulatively, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma’s data equals 94 hours, 667 manuscript pages, and $2350 in fees. As additional projects are completed, the cumulative numbers will grow.
Hours should be kept in quarter hours, rounded up; that is, if a project takes 5 hours and 3 minutes according to our timer, it should be calculated as 5.25 hours. There is always some unaccounted for project time and the rounding up to the nearest quarter hour accounts for at least some of it. My experience has been that over the course of time, the rounding up actually undercounts the actual time spent on work, but not by enough to matter for our purposes.
What do we do with this information?
The data used for Projects Alpha, Beta, and Gamma above assumed the billing method was $25 per hour. But we need to analyze the data to determine if this was the best billing method for us.
The very first bit of information we need to determine is what our effective hourly rate (EHR) needs to be. Is $25 an hour sufficient? It may be all that we can charge our clients for competitive reasons, but that does not mean $25 meets our required EHR. (Again, see the discussion of EHR referred to above.)
If what we can charge our clients and our required EHR do not at least match, or, better yet, exceed our EHR, then charging by the hour is not in our best interests. Even if the hourly rate we are charging meets or exceeds our EHR, charging by the hour may not be in our best interests.
Next we need to analyze each project on its own merits. Always remember that when we charge by the hour, the hourly rate we are charging is the most we can earn. Alpha was 210 pages, took 32 hours, and earned us $800. If we had charged $3.50 per page, we would have earned $735, or $22.97 an hour. In this instance, it appears that the hourly rate was advantageous.
Beta was 250 pages, took 21 hours, and earned $525. At $3.50 per page, the fee would have been $875 or $41.67 an hour. Here we took a beating charging by the hour. Gamma was 207 pages, took 41 hours, and earned $1025. At $3.50 per page, we would have earned $724.50 or $17.67 an hour. Again, on an individual basis, the hourly rate was best.
But what about cumulatively? Together the three projects were 667 pages and 94 hours for a total fee of $2350. At $3.50 per page, the fee would have been $2334.50, or $24.84 per hour — in other words, either choice was about the same. And if our required EHR is $25, the data, so far, shows that either hourly or per-page is an OK choice.
Where we have trouble is if our required EHR is higher than the $25 that competition will let us charge. We also have trouble if clients balk at paying for 41 hours for a 207-page project. Also, as we add more projects to the databank, we may find that Project Gamma was an anomaly and Project Beta was more typical, in which case we are losing significant sums by charging by the hour.
But the point is the importance of recordkeeping. Because we have the data, we can verify our choice of how to bill. In the absence of the data, we do not know if we are making the smart choice or not.
The data also gives us insight into projects. For example, I would want to know why the shortest project took the longest amount of time to complete and the largest project took the least amount of time. What was the difference? Did I do something differently? Is there something different that I could have done?
Although the data indicates that financially we chose wisely for these three projects, it also points out that there is something we are doing incorrectly. Our goal should be to do more in less, that is more pages of editing in less time editing.
The other purpose of recordkeeping is to take a long view of our work. I discovered early in my career, that as the data included more projects, I was losing significant amounts of money adhering to the hourly based system. Year after year the data demonstrated that while on some projects I lost money charging by the page, overall I did much better, which is why I have charged by the page for 28 years — the yearly and multiyear data keep reinforcing that per-page is best for me, in addition to being the only effective way to meet and exceed my required EHR.
I review my decision regularly. Should the data change, I would change. But I would not base a decision on just a few projects nor on anecdotal evidence. Consequently, I maintain records on every project. Recordkeeping is vital to business success because that is how the data needed to make business decisions is obtained.
(For the next part, see The Business of Editing: Recordkeeping II.)
Richard Adin, An American Editor
by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Although An American Editor usually tackles all things editing, I was asked to consider occasionally writing about writing. Because writing is my first love in terms of my freelance services, I’m delighted to do that, so here goes. In a way, though, this is about both!
Whenever you have a good idea or write a good article, it’s worth thinking about how to make the most of it—ways in which you can reuse or “repurpose” the same information in different ways. Among the possibilities are other articles, press releases, white papers, books and booklets, blog posts, tweets, and speeches or webinars. Even if you’ve signed a contract giving rights to the article to the initial publishing outlet, you may be able to reuse your notes and quotes in other ways, either print or online.
If you’ve written a series of articles or blog posts, you could turn them into a booklet or book (a good example of how this is done is The Business of Editing: Effective and Efficient Ways to Think, Work, and Prosper, the content of which began as An American Editor blog essays). In these days of self-publishing, that is increasingly doable.
Turn to a resource like the venerable Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace for ideas about where else to sell the information—maybe even the same article, depending on the rights you sold for the original version. Just be sure to let new editors know that you’ve already published something on the same topic or about the same person. If you pitch the idea of reprinting or repurposing a published story, be sure to mention that the new outlet has a different readership or geographic reach, or how you would edit the original version to be different enough to be appropriate for the new one.
For me, short posts to LinkedIn have been jumping-off points for full-length articles here, as well as ones for my Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication. I’ve used the same idea, from slightly different angles, for posts and articles for different organizations—the common thread might be, say, New Year’s resolutions, but I tailor each version to the specifics of a given publishing, writing, organizational, or freelancing niche. That is, I edit myself.
If you’ve written several articles on the same topic, you might have the makings of a syndicated column—having the same pieces used in several different publications—and being paid more than once for the same work. Do some research on how syndication works, and give it a shot. Just be prepared to keep the topic rolling over time. Syndication may mean one article getting published in a dozen places, but it usually isn’t a one-shot deal; it means keeping a flow of articles going.
You also could take an original article and develop a longer, deeper version for a website, which is a popular technique for many publications nowadays, especially for newspapers. The time and space constraints of a daily paper may limit a story to a short-and-sweet version of a story, but the website offers scope for more in-depth reporting, analysis, images, and more.
Repurposing your writing doesn’t always mean going longer on a finished article; it can also mean chopping it up into smaller pieces. You could turn excerpts from or shorter versions of your articles into online posts—blogs and tweets, for instance. One article could become an entire month’s worth of posts to your Twitter account.
And articles aren’t the only projects that can be used in multiple ways, or the only ways to reuse information. I’ve used my notes from conference presentations for both onsite newsletters and subsequent articles for magazines and newsletters covering the industries or professions that were the focus of the presentations.
The outlines and talking points from an early speech about freelancing became the basis for my self-published “Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer” booklet. I just had to flesh out my notes and outline, and they turned smoothly into a booklet, which I’ve updated a few times now and may be about to expand further into a book. A couple of years later, I used the content from that publication as the starting point for a new one on “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” for the Editorial Freelancers Association, recasting some of the original material and adding information to make it relevant to people who are editors, proofreaders, indexers, and other members of the editorial field, as well as writers.
I’ve used a section from my “Getting Started” booklet as the basis of a column for the newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES). My editor said I could use that section just as it appears in the booklet, but I preferred to do some fine-tuning to make it unique to that publication. How much self-editing you do on repurposed articles is up to you.
I’ve also converted both speeches and articles into webinars. There are differences in how you talk about a topic and how you write about it, but the essential information can be the same. You might make more use of contractions in a speech or webinar than in an article, and you would have to practice your timing and use of emphasis, but the same material often can make both a great article and an effective presentation.
Those of us who write put a lot of time and effort into crafting our work. Capitalize on that time and effort by looking for ways to reuse the same information. Your income, and fame, will increase!
Now to think of more ways to reuse some of my own recent work …
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, author of the Freelance Basics blog for the Society for Technical Communication, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.
Increasingly, I wonder why professional editors are being hired. In reading online discussions, it is pretty evident that (a) everyone thinks they can be an editor, (b) a growing number of authors think that self-editing or peer editing is more than sufficient, (c) professional editors are believed to be overpaid, and (d) people who have edited a romance novel think they can as competently and easily edit a 5,000-page manuscript on the genetics of cancer.
Of course, a lot of discussion online centers around price. Not only are editors offering services at unsustainable prices (see The Business of Editing: Why $10 Can’t Make It for a discussion of sustainable pricing), but users of the editing services offered are balking at those prices. (How absurd is this “pricing war” becoming? I received a job application from an editor offering to work for 25¢/page!)
It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that those who need a professional editor’s services have no clue as to why they need those services except that everyone tells them that they do and because using an editor is what authors have done for decades. The users of editors do not contemplate the purposes for which they want an editor’s services.
We have discussed professional editors and what their role is in the publishing process numerous times over the life of this blog. The editor’s role hasn’t changed, probably since the time of the very first editor. Yet even with that history, when asked “Why are you hiring a professional editor?”, the answer is rarely inclusive of what the editor does.
Within the past few weeks, I was asked to edit a paper that was going to be submitted as part of a grant proposal. The instructions were clear: check spelling and look for egregious grammar errors but touch nothing else. Why hire me? (I turned down the work for a multitude of reasons, including the project’s schedule was incompatible with my schedule, but largely because I am not a spell checker — I am a professional editor who expects to make use of my editorial skills, not a verifier that spell check software didn’t miss something.)
I think a significant amount of blame for the state of editing lies in the hiddenness of what editors do. It is hard to point to a paragraph in a book and say that because of the suggestions of the editor, this paragraph altered the author’s destiny, turned the author into a star or into a has been. Editors may have star-making power, but if they do, it is not readily apparent to either the editor or to the person who hires the editor.
The person hiring the editor is really looking for someone who can take away embarrassments before they become embarrassing. That’s because of the limited understanding of the editor’s role. Each person who hires an editor needs to ask, “Why am I hiring a professional editor?” If the answer is to verify spell checking software, then the follow-up question should be, “Why am I hiring a professional editor for a job that doesn’t require a professional editor?”
Ultimately, there should be an epiphany. The questioner should realize that what she needs to know is what a professional editor does. It is this appreciation of the skills owned by a professional editor that will enable the answering of the original query, “Why am I hiring a professional editor?” Importantly, once the question can be answered, it is likely to move the focus away from pricing and toward skillsets.
Another result of being able to answer the question is that the asker will be able to analyze her needs and guide the editor as to what is needed and wanted: If all you need to do is cross the street, you don’t hire a taxi. It is the lack of understanding on the part of an editor’s clients as to what an editor does and why it is important that is at the heart of the problems professional editors face in terms of unrealistic expectations and downward pressure on pricing. It is hard for an editor to convince a client that she is worth $50 an hour when the client thinks the editor is just a glorified spell checker.
Someone who understands what an editor does, understands the need for a professional editor. It remains true that no one will be able to point to a single paragraph in a book and say that the editor’s transformation of that paragraph instantly altered the author’s status; such singular events remain within the realm of the speechwriter. Unfortunately, because readers never see the before and after of an editor’s work, it is not possible for readers to see how the editor has improved or worsened an author’s work.
In addition, an editor suggests and the author decides, which means that an author can easily reject the advice that would transform his work from a member of the pack to leader of the pack as accept the advice.
The reason a professional editor is hired is that the client wants to ensure that her manuscript is accessible and understandable, that it flows not just in her eyes and mind but in the mind and eyes of others. She wants to know that her word choice conveys the meaning she intends. Professional editors have honed the skills that deliver these results. Professional editors are able to maintain a distance from the manuscript that enables an objective assessment; it is very difficult for a mother to objectively assess her child.
Once it is realized what a professional editor does and what skills he has, it becomes clear that not everyone can be an editor, just as not everyone can be a lawyer or doctor; that peer group editing is not the same as using a professional editor; that professional editors are skilled artisans who are worth more than a bottom-scraping fee; and that the editor who has successfully edited a romance novel is not necessarily the editor who can successfully edit a large manuscript on cancer genetics.
In other words, once one realizes what skills a professional editor possesses, it is easier to see that different skills are needed for different projects. Now one can answer the question, “Why am I hiring a professional editor?”
Richard Adin, An American Editor
Today’s column by Jack Lyon marks the first essay in a new monthly series, “Lyonizing Word.” In this series, Jack will discuss using Microsoft Word, especially macros, to best advantage during the editing process. Please welcome Jack as a new columnist for An American Editor.
by Jack Lyon
Macros and mastering Microsoft Word are keys to success in the business of editing. One can be a great editor and not master either, but it is more difficult, if not near-impossible, to have a successful editing business if you aren’t master of the tools you use.
My plan is to help you master Word and Word macros. My hope is that you will learn from each of my columns and will take the lessons learned and build on them yourself — for example, by building more complex and more useful macros that fulfill a need in your editing business. Here’s my first installment, which I hope you’ll find useful.
I often use character codes while finding and replacing in Microsoft Word. What’s a character code? Here are some common ones:
^09 is a tab
^13 is a carriage return
^32 is a space
Especially in a wildcard search, you may have to use such codes because Word’s wildcard search engine can’t handle certain characters and will give you an error message if you try to use them.
But what if you don’t know the code for the character you need? You can probably look it up online or in a computer book, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a macro that would tell you immediately? Just put your cursor in front of the character and run the macro to get the code number. Here’s a macro that will do just that:
Dim NextChar As String
NextChar = Str(AscW(Selection))
MsgBox “The code for the next character is” & NextChar
That’s pretty simple, but there’s still a lot going on. Let’s look at each line in the macro.
Here we tell Word the name of the macro, which is a subroutine (Sub) named NextCharacter. You can use pretty much any name you like, as long as it doesn’t start with a number or include any spaces. And the parentheses at the end of the name? I’ll reserve that discussion for a future article.
Dim NextChar As String
I just made up the name NextChar but not the commands around it, all of which are part of VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), Microsoft’s programming language for Word and other programs in the Office suite. If you want to learn more about “Dim,” “As,” “String,” and other VBA commands, here’s a good place to start: Getting Started with VBA in Word 2010.
In this line, we’re “dimensioning” (Dim) a variable to hold a value (NextChar) that we’ll use later in the macro. A variable is just a placeholder that can hold a value, like X in your high-school algebra class. Dimensioning just tells Word what *kind* of value we’re using — in this case, a string of characters rather than, say an integer, which can only hold numbers.
NextChar = Str(AscW(Selection))
This assigns a value to the NextChar variable. What value? The one produced by this:
“Selection” is the character to the right of your cursor (in the Western world).
“AscW” tells Word to find the ASCII or Unicode value of that character.
“Str” turns that value into a string — that is, characters rather than a value. Why? So we can see those characters in the message box produced by the next line:
MsgBox “The code for the next character is” & NextChar
This displays a message box (MsgBox) that gives us the code for the next character (as stored in NextChar), preceded by the text “The code for the next character is” just to pretty things up.
This line simply ends the macro, or subroutine.
Now, here’s how to put this macro (or any other) into Microsoft Word so it will be available when you need it:
To actually use the macro:
After the macro runs, a dialog box will appear with the numeric code for the character. To dismiss the dialog box, click OK.
Now that you know the code for the character after your cursor, you can use that code in Word’s Find dialog. Or you can insert it into your document. To do so, hold down the ALT key and enter the code on the numeric keypad. For example, the code for an uppercase A is 65. You could insert that character by holding down the ALT key and entering 65 on the numeric keypad. Of course, it’s a lot easier just to hold down SHIFT and hit the A key, but what if you need to enter something more esoteric? Microsoft provides a code chart here: ANSI Character Codes Chart.
That’s it! I hope you find the macro useful, and that my explanation here helps you understand a little more about how macros work.
Jack Lyon (email@example.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.
Over my career as an editor, I have observed that no matter how much I know about language and usage, I know very little. Consequently, I am always on the lookout for books to add to my collection that I can also use in my work as an editor.
Regular readers of An American Editor know that my primary rule when editing is that the message from the author must be unmistakably communicated to the reader. Should there be any possible doubt about the message, then the language used is questionable.
In that light, I have always assumed that certain words that are used in American prose have clear and precise meaning when used to convey an author’s thoughts. In most instances, I, like many editors and readers, failed to consider the broader concepts that certain words convey; I understood, or so I thought, the common, everyday meaning and assumed it was that meaning that the author was using.
Words, however, can be philosophical in the sense that a word can be both specific and can be used as a substitute for a broader, more conceptual perspective. In my early years, I learned, for example, that the Russian word pravda, which was used as the name of a Soviet Russia newspaper (Pravda), was translated as “truth” — read Pravda and learn the truth about what was happening in Russia and the world.
Unambiguous words — truth, vérité, Warheit — are used to translate the word pravda but, as the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Barbara Cassin, editor, Princeton University Press, 2014 [English translation]; originally published in France as Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionaire des intraduisibles, 2004) notes, pravda also means justice. And the scope of its meaning as truth is limited: according to the Dictionary, “Pravda is never used to designate scientific truth.”
What the Dictionary does is trace the origins, usage, and conceptual meanings of a selection of words that are important in the worlds of literature, philosophy, and politics, yet which are not easy to translate (and sometimes are wholly untranslatable) from one language to another. The Dictionary illustrates that those words that seem translatable, such as pravda, actually have meanings and nuances that are important to understanding the concept of the word, which concept leads to a different definition than the standard translation implies as being the correct definition.
In its exploration of words, the article authors delve into the cross-linguistic and cross-cultural complexities of the words and their meanings. The terms chosen for exploration have had a great influence on thinking over the ages. The Dictionary cites a word’s contextual history and usage to give additional meaning to the discussion.
Consider the entry for “matter of fact, fact of the matter.” The discussion is of the expression “matter of fact,” which is “found in English philosophy, notably Hume.” The discussion dissects the expression in an attempt to establish its origins and meanings. Following a several-page discussion, the article ends with a bibliography. The bibliographies that follow each entry are interesting in their own right.
The idea of the Dictionary is to elucidate the differences the concepts of the included words and expressions have based on the language in which a word or expression is used, both originally and in translation. The languages are Arabic, Basque, Catalan, Danish, English, French, German, Greek (classical and modern), Hebrew, Hungarian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish.
The terms are often transferred from one language to another without change. For example, praxis and polis are used in a variety of languages without translation; they have become part of a second language’s lexicon as if they were original to that language. Other terms are often mistranslated, even if just in the sense that the translation doesn’t express the breadth of the word’s meaning in its original language (e.g., pravda).
The essays make for some interesting reading. Even if a particular word is not one that I would encounter in my daily editing, reading the essays makes me think about the words I do see daily. In other words, not only are the essays interesting in what they have to say about a particular word’s origins and meanings, but they help reshape my approach to words as an editor.
The Dictionary of Untranslatables is wonderful addition to my language library. I view the Dictionary in the same light I view Steven Pinker’s books on language: not as resource that I will daily open as I would my Webster’s Collegiate, but as a book to savor and think about and to learn in the broader sense of learning. For anyone interested in language, in words, and the scope of meaning that a word can encompass, I recommend the Dictionary of Untranslatables.
If you would like to see a sample entry, Princeton University Press offers a few samples. This link will take you to the page where you can view online, in PDF format, a few entries. You might find the kitsch entry particularly interesting.
Today’s column by Erin Brenner marks the first essay in a new monthly series, “The Practical Editor.” In this series, Erin will address real-world editorial issues and the balance needed between real-world demands and what could (would) be if all the stars were aligned in the editor’s favor. Please welcome Erin as a new columnist for An American Editor.
by Erin Brenner
There’s nothing like honing a well-written manuscript until it would make the angels weep for its beauty, grace, and clarity. Helping create a work of art thrills and satisfies me. Having a hand in producing something like this from George Eliot’s Middlemarch would be an honor:
We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, “Oh, nothing!”
Too bad that I and most of my colleagues work in the real world.
Few manuscripts are the next Middlemarch, few authors a modern George Eliot. Certainly, we copyeditors could weave an author’s words until they became something glorious, but we run up against real limits: in raw materials to work with, in time to do the work, in money to be paid for the work.
Of course we want to do it all. Of course we want to turn that doggie daycare website into Literature! Why else would we have become copyeditors? Literary geniuses are rare, though. Much of the editing we do is the down-and-dirty variety on manuscripts that will be read tomorrow and wrapped around fish the day after.
True, there’s more text being published than ever before, even discounting all the casual emails, Facebook postings, and so on. That’s more opportunities for copyeditors. But because of that increase, readers are absorbing material more quickly, too. They don’t always notice the niceties. It’s get the message and move on.
Most of the time.
Then there are our dream projects: projects where the client wants the Cadillac service. They want you to bleed over every word, to make the manuscript sing—and they’re willing to pay for it and give you the time to do it.
Copyeditors need to know what the manuscript at hand calls for. What are the author’s and publisher’s goals? However beautiful Eliot’s prose is, it doesn’t sell soap.
What is the audience’s expectations of the manuscript? However much Eliot makes you feel, she doesn’t teach you how to perform open-heart surgery.
The practical copyeditor keeps the author, publisher, and audience in mind while editing, flexing well-trained editing muscles to find that unique balance between good writing and getting the job done for the manuscript at hand.
In this column, I’ll explore practical editing. It’s not enough to know the rules. You need to know how to apply them and why you would apply them differently in various situations. When would allowing vogue words be acceptable? When would you follow an author’s awkward dictate, such as “don’t split infinitives”?
Copyediting is a muscle. Having the power to do the heaviest lifting is useful, but being able to control how much power you use at any time is better. And knowing when to apply that power, and when not to, is invaluable. It’s the difference between failing and succeeding in our business.
Part of that control comes from understanding the difference between usage rules and style guidelines, so I’ll examine some common misunderstandings, such as the idea that all redundancies are bad and that certain phrases, like “don’t use reason why,” shouldn’t be used. I’ll also look at why it’s OK to use notional agreement, singular they, and hopefully as a sentence adverb.
I’ll provide lessons on structuring your editing for the real world — the one with doggie daycares and deadlines. The Copyeditor’s Typographic Oath will be a great map to guide us, as will the ideas of zombie rules and dog-whistle edits. I’ll offer triage lists, a method for judging the acceptability of neologisms, and online resources to inform your editing.
We’ll also talk about practical approaches to running an editing business and marketing yourself, such as structuring your business to meet your needs, balancing work and play, and learning to say no. We’ll discuss using social media as part of your marketing plan and why it’s important to do more than social media.
I’ll even debate some of Rich Adin’s ideas and expand on others. Can you really not teach copyediting? Is there really no such thing as light, medium, and heavy copyedits? Perhaps I’m biased on these points because I teach in a copyediting program. But I know how I struggled in my early days and how the training helped me. I believe you can teach copyediting, though not everyone can learn it.
I invite you to send me your topic requests as well. What would you like me to write about? Email me!
Erin Brenner is the editor of the Copyediting newsletter and the owner of Right Touch Editing. You can follow her on Twitter. Erin is also a guest presenter at various conferences on topics of interest to freelancers.